It was February 2012, and I was sitting in my car in my driveway on the phone with a friend. I had my hand on the key in the ignition and as I listened to the engine turn over and fire up, I knew I had hit the point of no return.
I had to admit defeat.
The moment happened in the blink of an eye with a five-word question. It was at that moment I asked the question I’d spent more than four years avoiding.
“Tell me about the job?”
As an entrepreneur, it’s the wrong question. It’s the question you never want to have to ask because it represents the failure of your business. It means going back to work for someone else, another company, and becoming a W-2 employee again. When you start entertaining ideas of “getting a job,” it makes it really hard to grow a successful business.
It’s true, I am a member of the business failure club.
How it all went wrong
My first business, an HR consulting firm, failed after four years. From the outside looking in you’d wonder how failure was possible with clients like KPMG, BDO USA and Snyder’s Lance? Or how failure was possible with articles published in WorldatWork Journal, Accounting Today, and Workforce Management magazine?
Some things did go well in my business, but my business had a secret and it was one I never wanted to share. That shameful secret – despite the big-name clients and exposure in highly-recognized industry publications – was that I had not figured out how to keep the pipeline full of potential new clients. I did land some big-name companies, but I would work too hard for each company I did land.
Then when the work was done with that big-name company, I would look up and realize I didn’t have another project on the horizon. The hustle for new clients would start all over again. It became a very scary and nerve-wracking way to live.
To be a successful business owner, you must figure out how to tame the entrepreneurial roller coaster. Meaning how to raise up the lows, level out the highs, and find your consistency. Then you can hit a growth trajectory that isn’t accompanied by free falling.
What I was missing
For me, what I needed but didn’t have was a process that included a few business growth activities I could follow consistently throughout the year that would provide potential new clients. Too many business owners in their first few years in business – and sadly for some even as they move into year five or ten – deploy the “spray and pray” method of business development.
In the “spray and pray” method, you seem to be really active with your business development activities – networking every month with five to ten groups, stalking people on LinkedIn and writing blog post after blog post. The problem is you aren’t taking the time to drill down on the activities you need to do that will deliver the pipeline of prospects that can turn into clients.
How to avoid my mistakes
One way to tame the roller coaster is to figure out your process for filling the pipeline with potential clients. You need to know what are your handful of business development activities that deliver the right type of prospects and you need to have a process to turn that pipeline of prospects into new clients.
Luckily, when I started my second business, a business and productivity coaching practice, I figured out how to generate new clients by cracking the code on how to generate referrals without asking. That made all the difference between business number one – my failure – and the consistent success my current business is having, more than five years later.
The referral plan I follow is my most successful business development activity for bringing in new clients into my business. The best part is that I really love executing on it because my process follows the mantra that you never ask for referrals.
Eventually my coaching practice would shift to training other business owners on how to generate referrals without asking and I would create my simple process which I share in my book, Generating Business Referrals Without Asking: A Simple 5 Step Plan to a Referral Explosion. But none of it would have been possible without my walk on the failure side.
Failure is an excellent teacher but bouncing back from failure is never easy. Particularly when that failure is on a stage for others to see. But you must move forward so you don’t give your failure the opportunity to define you. Because when it defines you, it holds you back.
One way I moved forward after my business failure was to talk openly about my failure, even the painful parts. Now it did take a while before I could talk about how the business failed, but when I started to share, I started to heal. And that healing allowed for me to move forward in another way, which was to learn from those hard lessons. I found sharing about my failure and learning from my failure to be two of the three upsides of failure.
The third upside?
The opportunity to do better next time. And that is what I did. And I bet you will too if you are ever faced with any type of failure.
Now I proudly wear my business failure badge, share my hard lessons learned and stay diligent and focused on the activities that help my business grow. There is no silver bullet, but I wouldn’t trade my entrepreneurial journey for any “job” in the world.
About Stacey Brown Randall:
Stacey Brown Randall is a member of the business failure club, a contrarian on how to generate referrals and a supporter of the entrepreneurial dream. She is a three-time entrepreneur, author of Generating Business Referrals…Without Asking, and host of the Roadmap To Grow Your Business podcast. Stacey is the wife of one, mom of three and recently gave in to the daily request of “mom, can we get a dog?” as they welcomed a new puppy, Evie, to the family. You can find her at www.StaceyBrownRandall.com.